Watercolor crayons, a trip to Des Moines and a bit of serendipity

It's funny how two unrelated events can combine to have so much impact.

Back in 2005, I went to a series of meetings in Des Moines, Iowa. Des Moines turned out to be a surprise. I’m not sure what I pictured. (Maybe corn fields and silos?) Instead I discovered it was a town of the most amazing galleries.

The week before, my friend Robin-the-Artist and I had sat around her kitchen table as she introduced me to paper crafts. While there I had used a tin of watercolor crayons and begged her to let me take them home. (I'm realizing as I type this I never actually returned them.) I took those crayons with a stack of paper to Des Moines.

As it turned out, that Friday evening, after the conference, the Des Moines Art Festival was set up right outside my hotel.  I could hear music and smell roasted corn from my balcony so since my flight didn't leave until the next morning, it didn't take me long to make my way downstairs.

The variety of art and artists was overwhelming. The thing that struck me the most was the work I was drawn to. Some of the most powerful uses of color were by African-American and Latin-American artists, and I found they had the power to pull me through crowds of people carrying cotton candy and roasted almonds to see their work up close. I spent an evening browsing through tents, then—inspired to create—I sat at a café table and began to sketch with the watercolor crayons I stole from my friend, Robin-the-Artist.

I went home the next day to our house which had an “old English library” feel and suddenly it didn't match me anymore. I stripped our dining room table and began painting it. ( John was skeptical, but luckily, he also encourages me when I have some idea unfolding that I can't quite articulate yet.)

Little did he know that the table would eventually influence everything. In going through the tents of the Des Moines Art Festival, I discovered the power of color and what it could do for my psyche and eventually it swept through our house. Over time, I got rid of everything that 'didn't match me' and only kept what had color and light.  And where there was no color? I created it, painting the edges of frames, mirrors, chairs and bookcases.

I've often wondered if the trip would have had the same impact if I hadn't had the tin of crayons with me. I also wonder how many times we let inspiration go by without acting on it because it is outside of what we have experienced before. I do know this.  It is easy to talk ourselves out of things because they are different, but once I picked up the jar of Citristrip and began to pour it over the table, I was committed. And the results were remarkable.

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© Random Cathy
Maira Gall